The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival was held last Saturday on December 4th at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg. The show was not only a celebration of some of the best independent comics talent today, but of the exciting community of artists who live in Williamsburg.
BCGF, an ongoing project by Desert Island, PictureBox and Bill Kartalopoulos, is unique among comic book festivals and conventions in that it’s an invitation-only event. While this methodology is controversial among some people, it also delivers a highly-curated and talent-concentrated show -- a panorama of excellence in comic creation and graphic design at which it was hard to decide what to look at first.
The Festival's co-organizer, Desert Island's Gabe Fowler, described to MTV Geek about the selection process for BCGF:
"This event has become a curated event, which basically means that me and the other two organizers come to the table with long lists of people we wish could be involved as exhibitors. And we basically chip away at that list and are inviting people to rent tables from us. So that makes it a little unorthodox, relative to other comic events which are usually first come first serve. But because our event is small, the demand just exceeded the supply of tables basically so it just led us to the conclusion that it needs to be a curated event just to keep a small but potent room full of stuff. "
The artists at the show generally seemed very enthusiastic to be there. Jim Rugg told MTV Geek, “ I’m very flattered to be here. The artists here are some of my favorite artists, so it’s always surreal to be a part of this.” Jon Vermilyea, whose projects include Princes of Time and Breakfast Crew, said: “It's really awesome that people can just get together and make a convention if they want to, and more people should do stuff like that. It inspires a lot of diversity and brings a of people together with artwork.”
The sense of community among the BCGF attendees was very palpable. Many of the artists at the show are from, as The Fart Party’s Julia Wertz called it, “a cluster” in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. What impact does it have on a comic creator to have so many talented neighbors and friends? Paul Hoppe, from the award-winning anthology Rabid Rabbit, told MTV Geek: “It’s nice to have the exchange with other people -- that you’re not alone, and you’re all in the same boat.”
Another highlight of the show was the star-studded panels. The "Lynda Barry and Charles Burns In Conversation" was packed to capacity, with people having to stand in the curtain area in order to witness the discussion between these two titans of the indie scene (and former classmates). In another popular panel, New Yorker Art Editor, RAW co-editor, and TOON Books Editorial Director Françoise Mouly talked editing with Kramers Ergot Editor Sammy Harkham. And Evan Dorkin, Paul Pope and Dan Nadel celebrated the work of Green Lantern and Dondi artist Irwin Hasen. It cannot be overstated the amount of excitement these programs -- and the artists themselves -- generated at the festival. It underlines just how vital and widely popular the independent comics movement is, making one question the classification of "indie" vs. "mainstream."
One of the comic creators who had the biggest buzz at the festival had to be Benjamin Marra, whose recent “The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd” has even been mentioned in the New Yorker and Huffington Post. Marra said that while he hasn’t yet heard from the real-life political columnist Dowd, reaction to the comic has been “overwhelming.” “I thought it might make a big splash, but not in my wildest dreams did I envision what has happened.”
Sort of bringing the whole festival full-circle, with a nod to the all-important roots of graphic medium, the Jack Kirby Museum’s table at the show displayed some of “King” Kirby’s art and memorabilia. Randolph Hoppe, a trustee of the online museum, noted what Jack Kirby always told aspiring young comic artists: “Make your own comic and tell your own stories. And I think that’s what everybody in this room is doing.” When I asked Hoppe what Kirby would have thought of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, he said, “He would have been ecstatic.”